The Guardian writes that in England rough sleeping “has increased for the seventh consecutive year”. This article goes on to list several shocking statistics. For those who work in housing these figures are no surprise and it is widely expected that these issues will continue into an eighth year.
It is the duty of the government and local authorities to prevent the crisis escalating but the policies in place to prevent this slowly unfolding tragedy have failed. Local authorities have full housing duties to provide accommodation to homeless people and lesser duties to provide housing advice and assistance. The stark, and quite frankly, perverse, reality is that many councils fight tooth and nail to reject a full housing duty because of the financial burden it entails. They also brush off lesser duties for the same reason. Funding shortfalls breed negative incentives and negligent decision making. This means more people wrongfully condemned to street homelessness.
What local authorities need is additional money (a lot), the ability to build and purchase new properties for social housing, and an expansion of their housing teams to provide the necessary advice to help people avoid homelessness in the first place. This is not the current position, which is why every homeless person brushed off by a local authority and every person who feels inadequately assisted should research their rights and seek legal advice.
The Homelessness Reduction Act will come into force this year and we can only hope that it will have an alleviating effect on the housing crisis. Aside from this, the national housing situation is bleak. The issues are extensive, systemic and inextricably linked to the philosophy of austerity. Major housing policy reform is required which must include a fresh approach to how we treat homeless people and the protections we afford housing rights.
Until this change comes, those who are street homeless or are facing street homelessness should present themselves to a local authority and demand help. If refused, they should seek legal advice immediately. From experience, some local authorities take a ‘see what they can get away with’ approach. Given what is at stake this is unacceptable and deserves challenge.